Every time they play John Lennon’s Imagine song in a national event in the US, there’s a controversy within the Christian community, even among the progressives.
Many Christians can’t forgive John Lennon for writing the song “Imagine,” but today, more than ever, we need his vision of hope, compassion, unity, and tolerance. I will argue that there’s nothing to forgive since Lennon paid for his creative audacity with his life. After all, the main motive behind John’s assassination in 1980 was religious fanaticism.
Can we accept different expressions of faith without demonizing those who believe in a different cosmology? John Lennon’s death wasn’t exactly God’s punishment but an act of intolerance. Even today, Christians love to loathe Lennon for the words of his song Imagine: “Imagine there’s no heaven…”. However, the song was inspired by a Christian prayer book given to Lennon and Yoko Ono.
Yoko would eventually be added in 2017 as a songwriter for the song that became John Lennon’s best-selling single of his solo career and a world anthem. It rejects religious and national division and describes a vision of a world of equality and unity, where we could all “live as one.”
Not everyone understands what John meant with his lyrics, but poetry is not meant to be understood literally. In an interview, John remembered the time an evangelical church called him about using the song Imagine: “Can we use the lyrics to ‘Imagine’ and just change it to ‘Imagine one religion?” to which Lennon responded: “That showed [me] they didn’t understand it at all. It would defeat the whole purpose of the song, the whole idea.” The words that would anger many are also considered beautiful by others: “Imagine there’s no countries / Nothing to kill or die for…” “Imagine no possessions…” It was Jesus who asked us to leave our attachment to possessions. Today, these words will be described by some as “radical.” It seems we haven’t evolved much about understanding oneness since the sixties.
The Beatles have been accused of being anti-religious before. They were spiritual, not religious. Can we stop the war between the validity of the religious and the spiritual? Expressing spiritual concepts in a non-religious language is a valid expression of the personal right to search for the truth.
I can relate to Ringo Starr’s religious definition when he described himself as “a Christian/ Hindu with Buddhist tendencies,” as a Christian who has studied other religions, learning about India’s spirituality gave me the language and understanding to have a closer relationship with God.
Today, after a world pandemic, we are on a similar path of spiritual and human revolution, human rights, and social justice as in the sixties. As I mention in my book Seasons of the Soul, life travels in cycles, and cycles are not closed circles but open-ended spirals, and whatever was not completed in one season will meet us again in the next round of existence. Humanity will have to grow repeatedly through significant events that will make us ponder, after which we will wake up and rebel against the accepted status, only to begin a new awakening.
Maybe the meaning of the song is a call to step away from duality and into oneness.
The Beatles have been called the biggest proponents of Eastern spirituality in the ’60s, influenced by their meeting with the Maharishi, a prominent Indian guru that George Harrison met in Bombay. Much of their music was inspired by this encounter. However, the Beatles were not the first to influence the world by what they learned from India.
After the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, we had The Roaring Twenties, and it was also in the 1920s when women won the right to vote. Spirituality had its revolution as well, breaking away from tradition. In 1920, Hindu guru Paramahansa Yogananda arrived in the US after a long voyage by sea from India to the legendary International Congress of Religions held in Boston. Nothing was ever the same again in spirituality. It was the beginning of the democratization of belief. He brought with him Yoga and meditation, and mindfulness was here to stay — now even considered an evidence-based answer to stress. It also worked for technology; Yogananda even influenced the father of the iPhone, his book Autobiography of a Yogi was also Apple and Pixar’s founder Steve Job’s favorite book, so much that before he died, he left instructions to give a copy as his last gift to everyone who attended his memorial. George Harrison also said that his book had a strong impact on his life.
The ripples an artist leaves in moments of change travel through time. Thank you, John Lennon, for your vision of a unified world, beyond divisions of religion.
Today we are redefining our limiting views in policies and heading for a new revolution in science, human rights, and religion. After this COVID19 pandemic, be prepared to hear new voices, new ways of thinking, new music, new artists and writers, new ways of relating to God, and learning to live together in truth, oneness, love, and peace. New powers will surge, and others will fall, creating tension between the ones that want to keep the status quo and the ones who cry for change, but one thing is for sure, nothing will ever be the same.
I am not proposing we all become the same, but accept and respect each other’s language to describe the Divine. Let’s not allow the search for God to become one more reason to judge one another.
Here comes the sun…I say it’s alright.
Sharon M Koenig is the author of Seasons of the Soul. The book, originally published in Spanish in Barcelona, has been published in various languages and countries, including by Pan Macmillan India (March 2021).
Suggestions to remember John Lennon today: